Upgrading through global, regional or national value chains? Firm-level evidence from the East African textiles & apparel sector

Julian Boys, Antonio Andreoni
#Sub-saharan Africa

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This paper introduces the concept of value chain directionality to investigate how orientation to different value chains has implications for productive learning and industrial outcomes. We develop and test this concept building on a purposefully designed firm-level survey focused on the textile and apparel value chain in East Africa. Tanzanian and Kenyan textiles and apparel firms lie on a spectrum in terms of their engagement with national, regional and global value chains (NVCs, RVCs and GVCs), with outcomes varying with value chain directionality. GVC firms focus on a narrow range of lower-value functions (mostly garment assembly) while RVC and NVC firms perform a wider range of functions including vertical integration to textile manufacture and higher-value activities such as design and branding, but cases of functional upgrading were rare in all groups. GVC firms were closer to the technological frontier, but RVC and NVC firms were similarly engaged in process upgrading. GVC firms tended to have more complex products than RVC and NVC firms, and only GVC firms had recently engaged in product upgrading. Crucially, results in the area of end market upgrading confirmed the hypothesis that RVCs have the potential to serve as ‘learning grounds’, or ‘stepping stones’ to more demanding but potentially lucrative global markets. In other outcomes, GVCs appear to offer greater prospects for rapid employment generation but RVCs and NVCs tend to favour backward integration by incorporating more locally sourced inputs.

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